Pay attention to the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency Act of 2018, aka the GREAT Act (H.R. 4887).
The GREAT Act could be the beginning of Federal Financial Report (“FFR,” SF-425) data being posted on the Internet.
On January 29, 2018, this must-watch bill for the grantee community was introduced in the House of Representatives and referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
In recent years, federal grantees have seen the roll-out of numerous new transparency measures, requiring disclosure of sensitive data, including:
- new mandatory reporting requirements under 2 CFR §§ 200.112 and 200.113;
- new disclosure obligations under the Federal Award Performance and Integrity Information System (“FAPIIS”);
- implementation of Internet publication of their Single Audit Act (“SAA”) audit reports, and
- subaward and executive compensation reporting requirements under the Federal Financial Assistance Transparency Act (“FFATA”).
The GREAT Act calls for:
- the development of a standardized data set for federal award management;
- all grantees to report those data points electronically; and
- the reported data to be openly available to the public. (GREAT Act, §§ 2 and 5).
The reportable data elements are to include “core standard data elements and may cover any information required to be reported to any agency by recipients of Federal awards, including audit-related information reported under [the SAA].” (GREAT Act, § 3, proposed 6402(b)). They must also “incorporate the data standards established under [FFATA].” (Id., proposed 6402(c)).
SAA reports are already published via the federal audit clearinghouse, and FFATA information is currently submitted electronically via the FFATA Subaward Reporting System (“FSRS”). Of concern, however, is the fact that the proposed Act’s guidance seems designed to extend well beyond SAA and FFATA information. Specifically, it seems designed to cover, and therefore lead potentially to public release of FFR data.
While the draft bill calls for the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) to “ensure protection of . . . sensitive information” and for information that would not be releasable under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to be protected (GREAT Act, § 5), it is unclear whether FFR data will be considered sensitive by agency personnel. Moreover, agencies may differ on whether FFR-level financial data is sufficiently proprietary to warrant withholding under available FOIA exemptions.
Notably, the draft bill calls for participation by members of the grantee community in setting the data standards. (GREAT Act,§ 3, proposed 6402(d)(3)).
Unfortunately, such Congressional encouragement has failed to result in effective industry consultation in the past. (See, e.g., GAO-05-335 (Apr. 2005) (criticizing federal agencies for failing to continuously involve the grantee community in efforts under the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999 (“FFAMIA”))).
This is one to keep an eye on.
If you have federal grant law or grant management questions, you may contact FTLF’s Grant Law Practice Group at (202) 466-8960, www.ftlf.com. FTLF also offers comprehensive trainings on federal grants management topics, including an upcoming three-day Federal Funding Academy in Austin, Texas from February 21-23. For more information, please visit our learning site at https://learning.ftlf.com